The bizarre history of Weezer and Rivers Cuomo


The cover for the debut album in 1994.

Clare McCoy, Reporter

Weezer, an alternative rock band formed in 1992, was made famous by hit songs like “Buddy Holly” and “Say it Ain’t So” on their iconic record: The Blue Album. When formed, it consisted of lead singer, pianist, and guitarist Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp, and guitarist Jason Cropper. The band evolved after that, however, with Jason Cropper leaving in 1993 (being replaced by Brian Bell in 1994), and Matt Sharp officially leaving in 1998 (replaced by Scott Shriner in 2001). 

This is where it gets weird. In 1997, following the tour for their failed album Pinkerton and their bassist leaving to start his own band (The Rentals), Weezer went on a hiatus until 2000. In this time, Rivers Cuomo re-applied to Harvard to receive his bachelor’s degree in English. Cuomo went through many years of self-discovery while being in the eye of the public, which makes his actions so much more interesting.

Born in New York, Cuomo was raised in the Rochester Zen Center with both of his parents. In 1975, his mother and him moved to an ashram in Connecticut named Yogaville after Cuomo’s father left his family. He lived an especially odd and unique life, made clear by his interesting life story. The name Rivers came from his mother; he was born between the East River and Hudson River in Manhattan, however he was never given a middle name because his parents wanted him to choose it (which he never got around to doing). His upbringing was very influential in his music, as he moved from place to place and was surrounded by Buddhist communities. Therefore, he was exposed to many diverse ideas, different from what one would typically hear in American rock music.

With the knowledge of his religious upbringing, it’s evident that it still plays a huge role in his life. In fact, his relationship with religion explains a lot of what he has said about his personal life – publicly announcing his celibacy, his lifelong vegetarianism, and even when he sold or gave away all of his belongings to devote himself to volunteering. One of Weezer’s newer albums, SZNZ: Spring, has heavy religious implications, with songs like “Garden of Eden” and “Angels on Vacation”. 

Cuomo has always exercised a large amount of creative control with Weezer, and with the absence of past band members, his voice is heard much clearer in the writing. As a songwriter, lead singer, pianist, and guitarist, it’s not surprising that he had creative differences with members in the past. Pinkerton – the album that irreparably changed the course of the band – was something that Cuomo was quite proud of because of his love for metal. After Weezer’s hiatus, the focus was shifted even more to the frontman, made evident by the more experimental songs and references to Christianity. 

Weezer’s evolution – whether it’s because of the lead’s creative control, spiritual journeys, or exhaustive effort to self-improve – is truly captivating. Personally, the most appealing part about Weezer is the band’s ability to make music that was true to them – an ability that was sadly lost after their fall from grace after failure to make more mainstream hits. But being able to look back at the changes this band has gone through, and the challenges Cuomo faced, makes their music so much more rewarding.